Council shows weak side again

Just when we thought we couldn’t be surprised anymore by certain members of the Colorado Springs City Council, we found out differently in the past week.

Already, we had seen and heard enough to suggest in our editorial two weeks ago that City Council no longer should serve as the board of Colorado Springs Utilities. Instead, we asserted, the time had come to take appropriate actions, via ballot issue, forcing the Council to abdicate that added responsibility.

We could see numerous reasons, including the glaring lack of experience and knowledge among the current councilors of how Utilities should operate. But what bothered us the most was realizing how many important decisions are looming about the long-range plans (and fate) of Utilities in general, and the Martin Drake Power Plant in particular.

Our idea, putting the future governance structure of Utilities on the ballot for the next city election in April 2015, already had the backing of many business leaders concerned about the leadership and expertise on the Utilities Board/City Council.

Then, just a week after that editorial, came yet another stunner that underscored the validity of our editorial position.

First came word on July 10 (after the July 11 Business Journal had gone to press) that Xcel Energy had sent a letter to Utilities expressing strong interest in purchasing CSU’s entire power-generation facilities — not just the aging Drake plant but also the Ray Nixon Plant south of Fountain, the Front Range Power Plant (adjacent to Nixon), the Birdsall Power Plant not far from North Nevada Avenue and Fillmore Street, plus a handful more smaller generators.

Given the sensitive nature of that request, it was intended to

be considered behind closed doors in executive session.

Xcel’s letter asked for a non-disclosure agreement allowing 60 days for Xcel subsidiary Public Service Company of Colorado to explore a potential acquisition. But given the sensitive nature of that request, it was intended to be considered behind closed doors in executive session. That’s how a board of directors for a $1 billion enterprise should know to handle such a situation.

Instead, one of those rookie councilors, Joel Miller, chose to release the letter publicly at the City Council meeting last week. That meant the matter would have to be discussed in open session by the Utilities Board at its monthly meeting, this week on July 16.

Miller was attempting to stop the Xcel Energy proposal in its tracks. He and other councilors had indicated their preference for the city to continue having full municipal ownership and control of Utilities — power, water and gas.

We’re not passing judgment on that issue. We’re simply saying that with such a potentially lucrative, legitimate proposal, it would only make sense for the Utilities Board to give it serious consideration playing by the usual rules, in this case involving non-disclosure.

As our columnist John Hazlehurst eloquently put it last week in an online column, “Selling CSU’s electric generation facilities might mean slightly higher rates. But … it would get us out from under problems associated with emissions regulations and give us the advantages of scale.”

We’re not sure selling power generation is the best strategy. But we’d much rather have a full analysis of the idea, and a clearer determination of Utilities’ actual worth, before undermining the proposition as Councilor Miller has tried to do.

To us, that’s simply one more reason why we need open-minded experts on the Utilities Board. Next April can’t come soon enough.